Personality, Delinquency, and Criminal Recidivism

Article excerpt

Can delinquents be differentiated from nondeliquents on the basis of their personality profiles? Within the area of personality psychology, trait-theorists especially link personality characteristics with behavior. Trait-theory states that personality can be described by basic independent dimensions of personality each consisting of a number of correlated traits. These traits are linked directly to behavior (Costa & McCrae, 1998). In recent years much attention has been paid to the relation between traits and delinquency. Eysenck (1977) is one of the few trait-psychologists who explicitly constructed a theory on the link between personality and criminality (see also Eysenck & Gudjonsson, 1989). In most studies his theory is used to confirm his hypothesis, and that delinquents do differ from nondelinquents on the three personality dimensions Eysenck distinguished. In very few studies has his theory been used to explain recidivism. Recidivism can be considered as a more serious form of delinquency, because of the persistence of criminal behavior. In the present study we examined whether different personality profiles based on Eysenck's theory could be distinguished in an incarcerated juvenile delinquent sample and which profile is more typical for recidivists than for nonrecidivists.

According to Eysenck (1977) there are three fundamental factors of personality: Psychoticism (P), Extraversion (E), and Neuroticism (N) (the PEN-model). These factors or dimensions are independent and biologically based. According to Eysenck, they are linked to criminality through the working of the central nervous system (CNS). Delinquents score high on all three dimensions. Due to the working of their CNS, they are less sensitive to punishment, which results in poor conditioning followed by poor conscience development.

Extraverts can be described by the following traits: sociable, active, lively, sensation-seeking, carefree, dominant, surgent, assertive, and venturesome. The biological basis of E is the level of cortical arousal. Extraverts are characterized by a low level of cortical arousal as compared to introverts. To gain an optimal level of arousal, they need more excitement and stimuli in their environment. Because of their low arousability, extraverts are less susceptible to pain and punishment, and experience less fear and anxiety. Therefore they form conditioned responses slowly and will be less socialized than introverts (Blackburn, 1993; Eysenck, 1977; Eysenck & Gudjonsson, 1989).

Neurotics are described by the traits: anxious, depressed, moody, shy, tense, irrational, guilt feeling, low self-esteem, and emotional. The biological foundation of N is laid in the sympathic part of the autonomic nervous system which is involved in the fight and flight reactions. In situations in which strong emotions such as anger or anxiety are experienced, this system prepares the organism for an effective reaction. The sympathic part of the nervous system of neurotics is strongly reactive to external stimuli. Neurotics therefore have a stronger reaction to various forms of stress than do nonneurotics. According to Eysenck, the high N-score combined with the high E-score of delinquents especially reinforces anti-social behavior (Eysenck, 1977; Eysenck & Gudjonsson, 1989; Gudjonsson, 1997).

High P-persons are impulsive, egocentric, cold, aggressive, unempathic, and toughminded. When put under great stress, the probability of developing a functional psychosis increases (S. Eysenck, 1997). In his recent work, Eysenck (1998) suggests that the P dimension is also based on the cortical arousal level in the central nervous system, and subsequently is linked to conditionability and conscience development. Impulsivity would be the crucial trait in the link between conditionability and personality. Impulsivity belongs to P and conditionability is linked to cortical arousal. Therefore high P-scorers, just like high E-scorers, have a low level of cortical arousal, and are less easy to condition and more prone to developing antisocial behavior (Eysenck, 1998; Gudjonsson, 19971. …


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